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Spiritual Maturity

What does it mean to Walk in the Spirit?

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust (strong desires) of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

The Scriptures have revealed to us that the sin in our lives is rooted in our desires.  We are tempted by our desires and then, as these desires further develop in us, the result is sin.  The book of James says it this way:

“But each man is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” James 1: 14 – 15

Knowing, then, that our desires are the root cause of sin, it is important for us to understand how to deal with our strong desires and the lust of the flesh.  According to this verse in Galatians 5 (quoted above), walking in the Spirit is the key to changing or overcoming our fleshly desires and, therefore, it is the key to our victory over sin.  The Scriptures in Galatians 5 continue as follows:

“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Galatians 5: 17

We must understand that there is a conflict within us between our fleshly desires and the Spirit, and we must make sure that we are following (or walking after) the Spirit and not after the flesh.

And later in the same chapter of Galatians it says this:

“And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Galatians 5: 24, 25

Christians who are well versed in the Scriptures understand that they must put to death, or put an end to, the strong desires of their flesh that are tied to their old nature, and that are tied to this world and the things that this world has to offer us.  We have shifted our desires and affections to spiritual things rather than physical things, setting our hope on the promise of eternal life in heaven and the unseen reality that accompanies this spiritual, heavenly future place for us.

I have written in more detail on this topic in the past, focusing on the need for us to put to death or crucify our passions and desires, and the shift of our hope from the things of this world to the promise of heaven and eternal life.  Here’s a link to one of the previous posts on this topic: https://flaniganjames.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/walk-in-the-spirit/

In this writing, I would like to focus more on a Christian’s spiritual mindedness. Christians must also make a change in the way that they think in order to correctly walk in the Spirit.  They must shift their dependency on their natural minds and lean more on the guidance and direction of the Spirit.  I can tell you right now that this is utter foolishness to the non-Christian, and unfortunately, is foreign to many Christians.  Christians must learn to look to the Spirit and not to their own natural, logical thoughts as they are guided through this life.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….” Romans 12: 2

In order to better understand this truth, we must remember that we are made up of three parts.  We have a spirit, a soul, and a body.  The body is all that is physical in us: our organs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.  The soul consists of our mind, our thoughts, and our emotions.  The spirit is the part of us that is connected with the Holy Spirit and is also linked to our conscience.  By the spirit we are able to discern spiritual things.

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.  The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2: 12 – 13

In the light of these three areas of our beings, as Christians, it is our goal to have our spirits rule over our soul and body.  For the secular or unspiritual man, there are two possible conditions: they are either ruled by their body, over their soul (mind) and spirit, or, they are ruled by their soul, over their body and spirit.  Some secular people have disciplined their bodies to submit to their soul and are able to control their body, keeping their body under submission.  But this control from their soul does not make them spiritual.

As Christians we must not be fooled into thinking that we are spiritual if we have our soul (our natural mind) rule over our body. This does not make us spiritual and is not enough!  We must have our spirit, in tune with the Holy Spirit, to be ruling over our soul, and then our soul to be ruling over our body.

Our unspiritual desires can originate from our soul, not just from our body.  I think this is an error that can lead to problems for Christians. We must recognize that our natural minds can also be the source of unspiritual desires that are contrary to the Spirit and therefore can lead to sin.

To be clear about this, it is not wrong to have desires from either your soul or your body, but we must recognize what they are and not allow them to “conceive and give birth to sin” as the verse in James (quoted above) suggests.  We must be able to recognize when they are in conflict with the spirit, or when they are taking too deep of a hold on our lives, influencing our emotions and actions.

Additionally, we must recognize that walking in the Spirit is not always about suppressing or guarding against desires that lead to sin.  We also need the Spirit’s direction in our lives.  We need to know God’s will and work to accomplish His desires.  We need to go with the spiritual “flow” of things in our lives, and not succumb to the flow that comes from our carnal, natural mind.  It is important that we are able to discern the moving of the Spirit in the day to day circumstances that we encounter so that we are in tune with His guidance and direction.

I would like to refer now to a portion of Scripture in the Gospel of John that I believe illustrates the difference between using our logical, natural mind and following the leading of the Spirit.  By the way, there are many, many places in the Scriptures that illustrate this, but I happened to be reading this recently.  The account is in the 21st chapter of the Gospel of John.  The background is that a group of disciples including Peter and John, a total of about 7 men, were by the sea of Tiberias.  We’ll pick up the story from the Scriptures here:

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.  But when morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’  They answered Him, ‘No.’ And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’  So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ “ John 21: 3-7

Let’s examine what was happening here.  First some background: For those of you not already familiar with this portion of Scripture, you should know that this event occurred after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it was before they Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples on the day of Pentecost.  You should also know that these men were fishermen by trade and had fished these waters for many years, learning from their parents, who were also fishermen.

Exactly why Peter decided to go out and fish is not clear, but I would think that since it was part of his livelihood, he most likely had assessed the conditions and thought that this was an ideal time to go out to fish.  I would also think that he was against wasting time, both his time and the other six men with him.  Using his experience as a fisherman and possibly some other logical and sensible reasoning, he decided to go out to fish for the night, and his fellow disciples, trusting his leadership in this, decided to join him.

On the following morning, after being out fishing all night, which I assume meant that they spent the entire night casting their nets and hauling them in only to find them empty, they were returning to the shore and were confronted by a man who told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and they would catch fish.  They didn’t know that it was Jesus.  For some reason, they listened to the man and it turned out to be exactly as he said, they caught many, many fish, so many that they could not haul them into the boat.

Immediately, we see what seems to be a very reasonable and logical endeavor, initiated by Peter, who was an expert fisherman, ending in complete failure.  And then, what seems to be unreasonable and illogical, to listen to the directions of some stranger on the shore, resulting in a bountiful success.

I wonder what the disciples thought when the stranger called to them.  Why didn’t they question him since they didn’t know that it was Jesus?  I think they must have had some spiritual discernment to know that there was something happening spiritually, even though they didn’t immediately recognize that it was Jesus.

The lesson here is simple.  We must recognize, no matter how much we think we know, or how much of an expert we think we are, or how reasonable or logical we think our plans are, that our natural minds are far inferior to the knowledge and direction of the Spirit of God.  We must therefore be more inclined to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction, then to look to the logic and reasoning of our natural minds.

I am not saying that it was evil or necessarily wrong for Peter and the other disciples to go out to fish that night.  We must recognize that if they would have stayed on shore for the night and saw Jesus the next day, that it is possible that Jesus could have directed them to go out and drop their nets and catch many fish.  It would have saved them a night of toil that got them no fish.

I also find it interesting that the disciples didn’t ask Jesus for help.  His actions were not a response to their requests.  It seemed that Jesus knew they hadn’t caught any fish and came to their help without them asking. God knows what we need before we even ask for it; He knows our situation and what is best for us.

Here’s what’s hard: we are not always able to hear clearly from the Holy Spirit to get direction from Him, and are therefore tempted to move out on our own without waiting for His guidance.  I have found in my own life that waiting is always better and when we are following the direction of God’s Spirit, we can be assured that His plan will work best.  We need to hone our skills of discernment so that we can recognize the leading of the Spirit or recognize when it is our own natural minds.  We need to understand that many times what is logical and reasonable is most likely from our own minds and many times God’s direction will appear to be unreasonable and illogical.  I believe that this is because He will get the glory from the results when we know that the direction came from Him and not our logical and reasonable thinking.  This is difficult for many Christians because following the direction of the Spirit can make us look stupid, or unwise according to worldly wisdom, or put us in a position that is against all sound reason and therefore in conflict with our friends and family.

Walking in the Spirit means that we are aware and aligned with the moving of the Spirit, depending more on His direction and guidance than on our own natural mind and the associated logic and reasoning.  Functioning in our own natural mind will bear little or no fruit whereas functioning under the direction of the Holy Spirit will always be productive.  I have learned the hard way that every time I move out on my own energy and planning it ends up being a waste of time and effort.

There are times though that following our natural mind and thoughts can get us into spiritual trouble.  We can miss God’s plan and purpose in certain circumstances and this can be wrong and evil.  The best example in the Scriptures is that of Peter rebuking the Lord for saying that He was going to suffer and die at the hands of the religious Jews.  Here’s the account of this situation in Matthew:

“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised on the third day.  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to you!’  But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God but the things of men.’ “ Matthew 16: 21 – 23

In this situation, Jesus called Peter “Satan” because he was “mindful of the things of men and not mindful of the things of God.”  In other words, he was being led by his natural mind and not following his spiritual mind.

In summary, walking in the Spirit is not just putting to death those things that are associated with our physical body, but it requires that we also put aside our logical natural thinking and instead be guided by the Holy Spirit.   We do this by prayerfully listening to His voice, that still, small voice that we have come to recognize as the Lord’s voice.  We also must allow our conscience to guide us as it is connected to the Spirit’s guidance.  Although listening and following the Spirit’s leading can cause us to look foolish to others, it will be the best and most productive path for us to follow.  Learning to walk in the Spirit in this manner takes time and practice and we will possibly fail or miss it, but God is faithful to help us and correct us in all of our efforts when we do so sincerely seeking to please Him.

May the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ bless you with the ability to hear His voice clearly and with the strength to follow Him wholly and completely until the end.  Amen.

Don’t Neglect the Weightier Things

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Matthew 23: 23

The Pharisees were a religious group that was dedicated to strictly following the Jewish laws.  The scribes were Pharisees who were considered to be experts in the law.  During the ministry of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees represented the worst of the religious people who had digressed into error and hypocrisy.  These, along with the Jewish leadership, were also responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.  They are examples for us today of people who may desire to be close to God and even to be His representative, but have in reality become His enemy.

The lesson for us today is to learn from the errors of the scribes and Pharisees, recognizing that we have the same tendencies as they did, and we can be just as blind to our own faults as they were.  We should guard against subtle temptations of drifting down the same pathways that led them to their final states of error and hypocrisy.

One error that Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for (as quoted above) is their neglect of what Jesus called the “weightier matters of the Law”.  He spelled out these weightier matters as justice, mercy and faith.  In order to make sure that we don’t also neglect these, we must understand what they are and how they need to be attended to.  Let’s briefly take a closer look at each of these.  I would suggest that you take more time on your own to seek God and study the Scriptures to learn even more about these and how they apply to your life and relationship with God.

Justice

Some Bible versions use the word “judgment” or “righteousness” rather than “justice” in this verse.  The original Greek word used is “krisis” and it is defined in Strong’s concordance as “decision (subjectively or objectively, for or against); by extension, a tribunal; by implication, justice (especially divine law): – accusation, condemnation, damnation, judgment.”  The definition of the English word “justice” is “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”

The indication from these definitions is that it is important for us to correctly determine what is fair, just, good, and right in our lives and circumstances and then to adhere to these judgments by aligning our own actions either to enforce or to support the enforcement of these just decisions.  In order for us to correctly make these determinations of justice, we need to have an understanding of God’s values and principles as revealed in His Scriptures.  Additionally, our consciences need to be healthy and sensitive, in tune with the Holy Spirit, and we need to be true to our conscience.

What does this mean to us in a practical sense?  It is very important to God that we are just and fair in all of our dealings.  For example, how we discipline our children or those whom we have authority over, or how we do business, i.e. the wages we give our employees or the prices we charge for our services or goods, or how we treat others in our situations at work or school or even at play.  We must be fair and equitable in all of these affairs and in whatever other situations we find ourselves in.

Some decisions are hard and therefore we need to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance, prayerfully taking time to inquire of God before hastily deciding on something especially when it impacts people’s lives.  In general, we need to be aware of the importance of justice in all our activities.  This awareness should help us to find the guidance we need to get to the proper actions or decisions.

Also, we should support those who are making a stand for what is right and just, or those who are administering righteous justice in the face of ridicule or resistance.  It seems especially true today when God’s values are being rejected by our society.  Our society has been turning good into evil and evil into good.  We need to contribute to stopping the injustices associated with these changes.

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5: 20

Mercy

I am confident that most Christians understand the definition of the word mercy, but it may not be clear that showing mercy towards others is a weightier matter of the law and that it is important to God.  Being merciful as noted in this verse implies that we are not just merciful to those close to us, our family and friends, but that we are merciful to all those who are afflicted, and even to our enemies.

To best illustrate the importance of mercy and its practical application, below is an exchange between Jesus and a scribe as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:

“And behold, a certain lawyer (scribe) stood up to test Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’  And He said, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’  But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’  Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by Chance a certain priest came down the road, and when he saw him, passed by on the other side.  Likewise, a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, “take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”  So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Luke10: 25-37

It should also be noted that at the time there was a longstanding hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans due to religious differences, so the Samaritan who helped the injured Jew was especially merciful under the circumstances.

We need to keep our hearts tender towards those in need and those who are afflicted and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to assist and relieve those whom we encounter.

Faith

The Greek word used here for faith is “pistis” meaning persuasion from a root word “peitho” that means to persuade, and refers to our moral conviction.  Abstractly, it implies the constancy in such profession or conviction.  In other words it means that we have been persuaded of some truth and that we are living our lives in alignment with this truth.

The scribes and Pharisees did have a belief in God and they had dedicated their lives to strictly following the Jewish laws.  What was their problem then with regards to their faith?

The Bible clearly teaches that our faith must produce works or it is dead faith:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But some will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that there is one God.  You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” James 2: 14-24

The good works that we produce in our lives are an indication that our faith is genuine and “alive” rather than dead.  We need to make sure that we are producing these good works, and if not, look to the Lord for help to deepen or strengthen our faith.

The Scriptures also make it clear that our faith should be focused on the spiritual, unseen, truths and not on the physical, visible, things of this world.  Our faith should be combined with the future hope that we have of a spiritual reality in heaven in the kingdom of God.  If we set our affections and focus on the spiritual hope that we have in Christ, and ignore (or die to) the hopes that are offered by this world, our faith will be deepened and we will produce the needed good works.  We will also become spiritually minded rather than carnally or fleshly minded, and this will foster in us a spiritual growth that will transform us into spiritual beings having the mind of Christ and the nature of God.

“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Galatians 5: 5

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Galatians 5: 16-17

In contrast the scribes and Pharisee were focused on this world and the praises of men.  It was obvious that the spiritual truths that they knew were not a reality to them; they didn’t really believe that they had eternal life in heaven after a temporary life on earth, nor did they really believe that God was going to judge them according to what they had done and according to His standards of mercy and justice.

The Bible says that the Jews of that time “had a zeal for God, but it was not enlightened” meaning that they did not understand the way of faith; they were focused on achieving rather than really believing.

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles (non-Jews) who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works.” Romans 9: 30-32″

“I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every on who has faith may be justified.” Romans 10: 2-4

Let’s not fall into the same error as the scribes and Pharisees.  Let’s keep our focus and attention set on our hope in heaven and on spiritual things, not on this world.  Let’s let our minds be renewed and transformed into the mind of Christ.  Let’s stand up for justice and be just in our dealings and decisions.  And let’s walk in love, being merciful to others, even to strangers or our enemies.  Lord please help us to do so!

Amen.

Don’t Deceive Yourself

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

To deceive someone is to purposely mislead them with false information, convincing or persuading them that a false thing is true.  The idea of someone deceiving themselves is then an oxymoron, or a seemingly contradictory combination of terms.  How does one convince oneself that something they know to be false is true? What motivates them to do so?

I would speculate that there are varying degrees of self deception with some people purposely and knowingly blocking out the truth, and others who do so subconsciously.  The real issue is the deception, or allowing yourself to be deceived, whether self inflicted or done by others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  Christians, especially, should have a strong resistance against deception as we mature in Christ, as Paul exhorted the Ephesians:

“…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,..” Ephesians 4: 13-14

It is important to realize how serious it is to allow yourself to be deceived by others or to deceive yourself.  Remember that Adam and Eve’s sin and fall from paradise was due to their being deceived by the serpent (i.e. Satan).  It is still Satan’s desire to deceive us and have us believe his lies.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us about Satan steeling the truth of the Word out of some people hearts:

“The sower sows the word, and these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.” Mark 4: 13-14

We need to be aware of Satan’s tactics and understand that he will be attempting to deceive us or to lend support for us to deceive ourselves.  And it’s not just the world that Satan has blinded to the truth, Christians too are vulnerable to Satan’s ploys and can be deceived.  Christians are constantly confronted with false teaching, false doctrine, miss-information, old myths, and worldly philosophies, and therefore we must be constantly on guard.

“But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3: 13-17 (Paul writing to Timothy)

The same advice is applicable for us today, to be well versed in the Holy Scriptures, so that we can weigh the things we hear against the truth from God’s word to either verify or reject it.

So what motivates us to want to deceive ourselves?  Why do we not want to face the truth?  We know that facing the truth can be painful, but why?  Let’s look deeper into this.

False, deceptive teachings can appeal to our flesh, supporting our desires for material or worldly things or possibly feeding our pride, or giving us an excuse to continue in sin.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us or to show us clearly the sin in our lives, but we have a tendency to resist from turning the spotlight on ourselves, whereas we are quick to turn the spotlight on others.  It’s interesting that we can hear a message or warning for correction and immediately think about other people who should be hearing it so they can straighten out their bad behavior when we are the ones who need it most, who the Holy Spirit is trying to get though to, yet we don’t allow the message to penetrate into our minds and hearts.  Lord help us to be open to examining our own selves as quickly as we look at others.

I have observed that any truth that invokes a negative emotion will cause us to want to block it out or reject it, even if deep down we know that it is true; somehow we just don’t allow ourselves to accept it because we think it will be too painful.  Some of us have been so sheltered that even the slightest discomfort will cause us to want to block out the truth.  Sadly, there are some who have been emotionally abused by parents or spouses and therefore cannot endure any further negative emotions and therefore block out anything that invokes these emotions, including the hearing of the truth.  As Christians we need healing from any emotional instability and we need to be mature, able to face the hard truths that life brings to us.

Guilt is one negative emotion that causes pain for us, but God in His wisdom and mercy has also given us a means to deal with our guilt.  He has offered forgiveness through the blood of Jesus that washes away our sins.  All of our sins that occurred before we came to Jesus are cleared from our record and fully forgiven.  Any current sins can be brought to Jesus, confessed to Him and removed also.  And He has made a way for us to live our lives with freedom from sin.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1: 10

It is amazing that God has removed the negativity of guilt from our minds and hearts, and from our conscience, so that we can be completely open to receive the truth and to enter into an intimate relationship with Him.  Praise God!

Fear is another negative emotion that could cause the truth to be blocked from our mind or cause us to not want to believe it, but rather believe a lie.  The prime example of this is the fear that we all have of death.  When we face the reality of death and its finality, we are then forced to come to grips with the futility of life that ends in death, leaving us with nothing and faced with the unknown afterlife.  We must somehow convince ourselves of a reason to exist in this world for such a short time (I am speaking of those who don’t believe in the resurrection), only to end in death.  For many, they block this reality out of their minds, or accept a false philosophy to allow them to function through life without the fear of death.  Only the Christian can stand firm on the established truth of the promised eternal life through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Related to fear, we also have a resistance to change in our lives, so that any truth that we encounter that suggests a need for us to change is resisted fearing that the changes will be too difficult or too painful.  As Christians though, we really need to embrace change and prepare our hearts to be open to change.  God is doing a work in us and it will require changes in us.  We are constantly being uprooted from the world’s ways into God’s ways.  The old things have to be done away with and the new things established.  And, yes, sometimes the changes are painful and difficult.  These are both external and internal changes; if we resist them we will most likely end up deceiving ourselves in some way.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

And finally, we must recognize that it is our pride that is the most likely thing to hinder us from receiving the truth, and contributes to our self deception.  We don’t like to be told that we are wrong or to be corrected, and therefore we resist.  As Christians though, we should love to be corrected, realizing that it is for our own good and advancement in spiritual maturity, and that it is really the Holy Spirit that is correcting us, not the people who are being used to convey the message of correction.  In fact, I have found that the Lord will sometimes use someone who we don’t respect to be the messenger for correction to test us.  We must therefore look beyond the imperfections of the messenger and weigh the message based on the truth it holds.

“He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.  Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.” Proverbs 9: 7-10

In the opening quote above from 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is warning against the self deception that comes from holding to the wisdom of this world, that I believe is rooted in and motivated by our pride.   As Christians we must humble ourselves and become like fools in the worlds eyes so that we can embrace the truth and the true wisdom that comes from God.  We must remove our predetermined biases and associations that we are proud of and be completely open to receiving truth based on God’s wisdom, with His influence and guidance.

“Let no one deceive himself.  If anyone among you seems to be wise I this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, ‘ He catches the wise in their own craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ Therefore let no one boast in men.” 1 Cor. 3: 18-21

“Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ ” Matthew 18: 2-4

At the time of this writing there is a very large separation between the two dominant political parties in the United States.  It is therefore very obvious how the predetermined biases and prideful association with either party influences the determination of truth.  If one political candidate does something, all the supporting people praise it and all the opposing party people condemn it; when the candidate from the other party does the same thing, the support and opposition aligns exactly along party lines.  Sadly, there is no real search for truth but rather a desire for the associated party to be right or win the argument; again, this is rooted in pride.

Let me close by saying that each one of us is responsible as individuals for our determination of truth.  We must open our minds to hear from the Holy Spirit, putting aside any fear of change or painful emotion, and especially putting aside our pride and biases.  We must reject the wisdom that comes from this world and know that true wisdom comes from God as revealed through His Scriptures.  We must guard ourselves against the enemy who will attempt to deceive us by any means possible, taking advantage of our weaknesses.  We must put to death our fleshly desires and not allow them to influence our determination of truth, or to keep us believing lies.  We must also recognize that the process of transformation is ongoing for us as children of God so that there is always truth to be learned so we must constantly be open and willing to learn or to be corrected.

My prayer for you is the same as Paul’s for the Ephesians:

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3: 16-19

If you have this, you will not be deceived, nor will you be deceiving yourself.

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.  As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 7-11

We live in a very impatient society.  We learn from an early age that time is money so if we are not rushing than we are wasting time and losing money.  And yet it seems that we spend so much of our time waiting.  We wait for the light to turn green, for the progress bar to finish, for the water to boil, for vacation time to come, for retirement, and for many other events, big and small, to either arrive or to complete.

As we allow more and more pressure to be put on us to perform faster and faster, it generates more and more stress in us.   The stress causes us to become less and less patient, possibly resulting in outbursts or anger and impatience.  When riding with one of my friends, he would start yelling, “You can go! You can go! You can go!” when the light turned green and the car in front wouldn’t move immediately.  If you have been to a big city like New York, you learn quickly that people are very impatient and seem to function in that mode, and are even proud of it.  They are quick to beep their horn or shout out obscenities, and consider it part of the city culture.  All of us are faced with the pressure to move quickly and get things done, and to produce as quickly as possible.  We also expect the same of others and become impatient if they don’t.  This attitude of impatience infiltrates all areas of our lives as it is a part of our western culture (at least here in the USA).

On the flip side, I find it amazing that the things that we look forward to with so much anticipation are usually anticlimactic, that is, they usually don’t deliver what we expect.  It’s like we are motivated by the expectation, but then disappointed when we reach the desired goal, so we quickly shift our attention to the next anticipated future event to again motivate us.  Ultimately, this approach leads to frustration and even despair, and this could also contribute to an increase in our impatience.

There are two problems that I’m pointing out here: first is our tendency towards being impatient as we are trained to do so in this society by being pressured to move and work at a fast pace, as well as the desire for immediate results, and second is our misplaced anticipations, when we place them on the things of this world and allow our expectations to be set very high as a means of motivation or whatever the case.

As Christians we must deal with both of these problems.  In fact, I would say that there is a high importance on getting this right in our lives.  The Lord has placed a very high value on patience.  Have you considered why?  Consider this verse:

“Love is patient…..”  1 Corinthians 13: 4

And this:

“For the fruit of the Spirit is……patience…..” Galatians 5:22

When we think about being patient we don’t always equate this to love.  Nor do we always recognize patience as a fruit of the spirit or as being spiritual.  But patience is a part of the very nature of God.  Jesus displayed patience, and patience in suffering, as He lived His life here on the earth and suffered for us as He was beaten and crucified as an innocent man.

There are many scripture verses that emphasize the importance of patience or patient endurance towards the hope that we have in the return of Jesus, but I chose to look closer at the above quoted verses in James.  James begins this letter with an exhortation to be patient:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (endurance or perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1: 2-4

In these initial verses from James also lies a key to our ability to be patient, that is, that we must change our attitude towards the difficult circumstances that we face, recognizing that they have been allowed by God for the testing of our faith.  When our faith is tested and we endure, it produces in us an increase in our godly character, and more specifically, it produces patience in us.

Allow me to spell this out:  When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that require us to wait and endure patiently, there is nothing wrong, but this is exactly what God wants for us.  We need to submit to it, rather than attempting to circumvent or side step around the circumstances, and recognize that this is the testing of our faith and that God has ordained the trial for us to endure.  In His time, He will open a door for us to move on or to be removed from our situation.  It will be clear to us that it is time to move on, otherwise, If we don’t submit to the Lord’s will by continuing in the circumstances, these circumstances (or something similar or perhaps even more difficult) will only come back upon later.

I like what it says in verse 8 of James 5:

“You also be patient.  Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  James 5:8

In the Amplified Bible, after “Establish your hearts”, it adds in brackets, “Strengthen and confirm them (i.e. your hearts) in final certainty.”  Here lies the second key related to the second problem that we have mentioned.  Rather than placing our hope and expectations upon something in this world that will only disappoint us, we need to establish our hearts upon the hope that we have in heaven and make up our minds to be steadfast in our focused anticipation of the glory that we will share with Jesus Christ at the end.  There is tremendous power in this hope, as the scriptures attest to:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8: 18

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18

As Christians, we therefore have the perfect solution to the problems of impatience and stress.  I don’t say this lightly because this solution was brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and was paid for by His life and death, to establish our hope of glory that is incorruptible and assured beyond all doubt.  As we patiently endure through this life, we have the example of the endurance of the past prophets and saints, and the endurance of the Lord Jesus.  Armed with this knowledge we know that whatever the situation that we face, we can get through it by the grace of God as they have done in the past.  We also are confident that God is on our side and is even using our trials to work into us a more Christ-like nature of love that will only make us stronger and give us more reward in the end.

As Christians we should be known for our patience and our ability to endure hardships.  Let us establish our hearts in strength and set our faces like flint towards the future hope that we have in Christ not allowing any circumstances to undermine our character or cause us to become impatient.  We now know the source of our strength: a changed attitude towards the trials that we face and a steadfast hope set on the promise of future glory in heaven.  My prayer is that everyone who reads this will find this source of strength, and even more so, so that they will persevere until the end, when Jesus returns.  Amen.

Learn What is Pleasing to the Lord

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5: 8-10

It should be the goal of every Christian to please the Lord, but we cannot do this unless we know what is pleasing to Him.  The main source to learn what pleases Him is the Bible, but we also have the Holy Spirit and our conscience to guide us.  It is a good thing to seek God to find out what pleases Him, and to read the scriptures with this intention in mind.

In general, the father and child relationship is a good guide for us.  We know that a father is pleased by a wise and well behaved son or daughter who listens well to instructions and follows closely what they are told to do.  The book of Proverbs brings out this idea of the Lord being like a wise Father instructing His children:

“Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine; do not forsake my law.” Prov. 4:1

And this about how a wise son pleases his father:

“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” Prov. 10:1

This may seem simple or obvious, that God is pleased with our wisdom, understanding and obedience to His commandments, but it is the lack of focus on these simple things that has gotten many well meaning believers into trouble over the years (like the Pharisees during the time of Jesus).

We have a tendency to focus on what pleases other men, instead of what pleases God, or we focus more on what feeds our own flesh and pleases us.  We easily get distracted and turn our focus to secondary things.  The Gospel of Mark has a great guide for what should be the focus of our attention to please God and do what is most important to Him:

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first (foremost) commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher, You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’  Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Mark 12: 28-34

You will notice that the scribe’s wise answer included the point that having this understanding that there is only one God, and having a love for God and neighbor is more important than offerings and sacrifice, indicating that even back then there was an issue with people focusing on the wrong things when attempting to please God.

We must also recognize that God is Spirit and therefore we must be spiritual and understand the things of the Spirit in order to please God.  Being spiritual requires faith.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11: 6

It is very clear in the scriptures that our carnality, or our focus on the things of this physical world that feed our carnal nature, is displeasing to God.  Removing the things of this world from our hearts and focusing on the things of the Spirit, or being spiritually minded, is pleasing to Him.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8: 5-8

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but of the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

This makes perfect, logical, sense because if we are carnally minded and without true faith, we become foolish and are unable to follow God’s instructions (or even see and hear them), and cannot walk in true love.  But if we exercise our faith, and turn from the things of this world in our hearts, and focus on the spiritual promises that God has given to us, and long for heaven, then we can see and perceive the truth, and are empowered to walk in love with the law written on our hearts, therefore pleasing Him.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”  Galatians 5: 16-17

When we focus our hearts on the things of God, the things of the Spirit, and His power and influence in our lives, and through our faith begin to walk in the Spirit, we then are able to see the truth from God’s perspective, and can honor Him and give thanks for what He is doing in our lives.

In Psalm 50, the Lord makes it clear that He doesn’t need anything from us, but He expects from us thankfulness, obedience to what we have committed to Him, and that we call upon Him for help so that He can be the glorified when He delivers us from our troubles and meets our needs.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness.  Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Ps. 50: 12-15

And so we see that it pleases God that we are thankful, and we should be thankful often, for the food that we eat and even the air that we breathe, we should not take it for granted.  And we should thank God for the many things that He does for us throughout our lives.

It is not wise for us to make vows to the Lord, but if we do, we should fulfill them.  For example, if you are married, you made of vow before God that needs to be honored completely until death.

We see also that God is pleased when we come to Him.  He wants us to make Him our God and not to substitute His place as God in our life with either our own power or thoughts, or with other men or other manmade organizations or institutions.  He alone is our deliver and help in our time of need.  He needs to be honored as such and then rightfully glorified when He delivers us from our situations.

Pleasing the Lord takes some effort and requires our attention.  Paul the apostle makes this clear in his teachings:

“But I want you to be without care (concern). He who is unmarried cares for (or is concerned about)  the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife.” 1 Cor. 7: 32-33

“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 4: 3-4

In summary, we see that as beloved children we should be focused on making sure that our lives and actions are pleasing to our Father in heaven.  We need therefore to be obedient to His instructions and commands, but this requires that we turn from this world and focus our minds and hearts on the things of the Spirit, becoming spiritually minded.  Walking in the spirit will allow us to love God fully and to love our neighbors, as we have been instructed to do.  The Lord needs nothing from us, but instead desires that we are thankful to Him for the things He does in our lives, honoring Him as our God, and looking to Him in our time of need, and glorifying Him for His help and deliverance.  It requires some effort on our part to not only learn what pleases Him, but to keep focused on what is pleasing to God rather than what pleases us or other men.

I will leave you with this exhortation from the word from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-2

What’s the Problem?

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64

The biggest challenge that physicians face in their practice of medicine is the diagnosing of a patient’s illness or condition.  Once they determine the source problem it is usually straight forward to prescribe a treatment to correct the condition.  Likewise, it is important to get to and treat the root cause of the problem because treating the symptom will not correct the problem.  Defining and understanding the problem and its root cause is the greater part of the work of finding a solution.

Albert Einstein said something similar.  He said if he had one hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining what question to ask. Then, if he asked the right question, he could easily solve the problem in the last 5 minutes.

We live in a complex world with many intertwined issues.  There are many intelligent people trying to come up with solutions and ways to improve our dire situations.  Many of these problems have plagued mankind for centuries and continue to plague us.  History is constantly repeating itself with wars and economic collapses and we can’t seem to resolve the underlying issues or find the root cause.

I recently read an interesting quote from two authors named Strauss and Howe who have written a number of books about what they call “generational theory.” Their most recent book is called “The Fourth Turning” where the authors examine the generational cycles and patterns of history in an attempt to determine what could follow in our future. The quote below, which I believe is from their latest book, seems to sum up well the challenge of determining the root cause of the problems that we face:

“We perceive our civic challenge as some vast, insoluble Rubik’s Cube. Behind each problem lies another problem that must be solved first, and behind that lies yet another, and another, ad infinitum. To fix crime we have to fix the family, but before we do that we have to fix welfare, and that means fixing our budget, and that means fixing our civic spirit, but we can’t do that without fixing moral standards, and that means fixing schools and churches, and that means fixing the inner cities, and that’s impossible unless we fix crime. There is no fulcrum on which to rest a policy lever. People of all ages sense that something huge will have to sweep across America before the gloom can be lifted—but that’s an awareness we suppress. As a nation, we’re in deep denial … individually focused yet collectively adrift …” Strauss and Howe

Men are continually searching for solutions to society’s problems but they seem to be chasing the wind.  As the quote above indicates, the world’s problems can be confusing and misleading, causing frustration and exasperation.

I would submit to you that the lack of a solution comes from ignoring the revelation from our Creator. Doesn’t it make perfect sense that the One who created us would have the answers for the source of our problems?  The Scriptures reveal to us that man’s root problem is a broken relationship with the Creator God.  This relationship is a spiritual one and, therefore, the root cause of our problems is a spiritual issue.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom has removed any spiritually based philosophy from the acceptable list of credible viewpoints to be used to solve our problems and therefore they have limited themselves to solutions that deal with this physical world only and are based on man’s logic only.  They concentrate on historical information from the past, or improving social or economic practices with increasing controls or regulations, laws, etc. All of these approaches have failed and will continue to fail because they don’t address the root cause – man’s spiritual condition and relationship with God.

Consider this: if somehow we could eliminate all of the greed, all of the envy, all of the jealousy, all of the covetousness, all of the selfishness, all of the arrogance and all of the dishonesty in a society, then it is quite conceivable that the result would be the disappearance of a large part of the problems that our world faces. All of these negative character traits are the fruit of our carnal nature, the fruit of the flesh.  When our relationship with God is properly restored, our carnal nature dies and we are born of the spirit, and then transformed into a new creature with a spiritual nature.  The fruit of the spirit replaces the fruit of the flesh.  The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:5

This transformation from carnal to spiritual has occurred throughout the centuries since the time of Jesus Christ in all those millions of Christians who have sincerely and legitimately been converted by receiving and believing the Gospel message.

You’re probably thinking at this point that it’s impossible to change all the people in a society in this way, that is, to have them converted to true Christianity.  The Scriptures state that God has allowed evil people to exist in this world along side of good people until the end of the age, when He will separate the good from the evil, and He will destroy this current world and create a new heaven and earth that functions in righteousness (see the parable of the wheat and the tares).  Therefore, this world will not be completely “fixed” until that time; in fact, according to the prophecies about the end, it will get worse and not better.

Although the collective human race cannot be changed to become spiritual in nature, a significant number of the individuals of this world can be changed.  I would even go as far as to say that in some cases large portions of a society can change, maybe not entirely, but to an extent where most could become spiritual, restored in their relationship with God.  In 1904, there was a spiritual revival in South Wales were over 100,000 people were converted to Christianity with the associated fruit of their repentance and transformation to spirituality.  As a result the jails were emptied and the bars went out of business.  What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

Here’s a quote from a local newspaper during the time of the revival in South Wales [my comments in brackets]:

“Drunkards have been soberised, publicans [a pub or bar] have lost much business, conduct on public streets has elevated, and the police and magistrates have had quieter times…. The bottom of the pits [coal mine pits] have been utilized as centres for prayer and praise meetings, and there has been a general raising of the standard of public life.” South Wales Gazette – 1904

It is also important that we remain clear on the true problem and solution, even if we know that we can’t change the entire world, we can still influence at least a small part of it.  We can influence those who are around us, in our families, in our work places or schools.  We can focus on one individual at a time, and make a difference.  We can pray for God to bring about a larger scale revival.

Of course to the non-Christian world this idea of needing a spiritual rebirth is foolishness.  I am convinced that the problems of this world are rooted in the carnal nature of man that needs to be replaced by a spiritual nature, and this replacement can only take place through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust [strong desire] of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication [sexual immorality], uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5: 16-26

It is critically important that we understand what the Scriptures define as “carnal” or “walking in the flesh” and what they define as “Spiritual” and “walking in the Spirit”.  It is likely that your understanding of these is not aligned with the Biblical definition.  I would strongly advise that you take the time to study the Scriptures to learn it firsthand.

We can be certain of this though, as the Scriptures also guide us, that if a person is displaying the fruit of the flesh they are carnal in nature, even if they may sincerely think that they are spiritual, and if they are displaying the fruit of the Spirit, they are spiritual.  We must be careful to examine the fruit without bias, as we can easily be deceived.

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.” Matthew 7:16-17

Here is what I have come to understand concerning the carnal nature and the spiritual nature from the Scriptures:  Both of these are a mindset, or a way of thinking and viewing ourselves and the world around us.  A carnal mindset is focused on this physical world and on the things that are important in this world, whereas a spiritual mindset is focused on the things of God, and on the things that please Him.  The carnal mindset does not require faith and is concerned with more immediate rewards in the here and now, whereas the spiritual mindset requires faith and looks to the future rewards that God has promised.  Another distinguishing factor is our hope, or knowing what we have placed our hope upon or what we have set our mind and heart upon.  The spiritual mindset has its hope set on God’s promise for Heaven and is waiting for His return, where as the carnal mindset has its hope set on a future condition in this world.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8: 5

At this point we need to ask another “why” question to get to an even deeper root cause.  Why do people remain carnally minded?  Or, what is preventing the conversion from carnality to spirituality in people?

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul explains that there are two types of people who are in need of conversion.  The first type is those who have suppressed the truth that God has shown them and therefore have carnal fruit in their lives, doing wicked and unrighteous things.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.” Romans 1: 18-21

The second type of person is the one who has supposedly embraced God’s truth, but has not applied the truth to their own life, but instead has used the truth to judge others.  This type of person believes that they themselves are “spiritual” and acceptable to God, but the bad fruit that they bear exposes their self deception, and their erroneous assumption that God will overlook their evil actions because of their knowledge of the truth.

“Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2: 3-5

This second type is particularly deceptive because the person can claim to be a Christian and can agree with all of the truths of the Bible, but they choose to continue to live their lives, or “walk”, in the flesh. This is the deception of religious people who practice the religious ceremonies and adhere to certain regulations, but they don’t make the necessary internal changes that convert them from carnally minded to spiritually minded.

Jesus had much to say about this same error to the religious Pharisees of His time, and the Apostle Paul wrote much in his letters to the early churches to counteract the false concepts and teachings that the religious Jews were attempting to promote that would have shifted the focus of the brethren to religious ceremonies and traditions that would have kept them walking in the flesh rather than walking in the Spirit.

Of course, each of these types of unconverted people has varying degrees of error.  Some of them are so far into error the Scriptures says that God has turned them over to a “reprobate” mind and no longer pursues them with the truth.  I believe, though, that anyone can turn back to God and receive the truth if they so desire.  Only God knows a person’s heart.

The Scriptures make it clear that all men are in need of this conversion, there are no exceptions.  They also state that the only path to conversion is through Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was sent for this purpose.

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 1 Timothy 2: 3-7

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” John 14:6

In order for a person’s relationship with God to be restored, there is first a requirement from God that needs to be met.  God is holy, righteous, and just, and He cannot overlook the sin in a person’s life before entering into a relationship.  The only payment for our sins that is acceptable by God is the ransom that was paid by Jesus Christ on our behalf.  The Scriptures make it very clear that there is no other payment that is acceptable.  There is no man that can boast that he has earned a righteous position before God because of his own goodness or righteous actions.  We all must humbly accept the payment that Jesus made on our behalf.

Once we enter into a relationship with God based on the payment made by Jesus Christ, we are then fully acceptable as a child of God and are assured of the promised inheritance.  Our name is recorded in God’s “book of life”.  We can then communicate with God and live our lives in close relationship with our Creator.

We also recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead and has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father as King and Lord of all creation.  We, as part of His kingdom, honor Him as King and Lord.

On our part, the only requirement is that we exercise a sincere and true faith towards God and what He has promised through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.   It is this faith that causes us to pass from a carnal creature to a spiritual creature.  This faith requires that we die to this world and the hollow promises it offers and become alive to the promises of eternal life in heaven and a resurrected body that transcends the second death.

What I have just explained is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it is the source of life for the entire world and is the answer to the problems we face.  Our first responsibility is to make sure that we continue to walk in the spirit and in the truth.  After doing this, we can then look to promote this truth to others.  We must recognize though that we are witnesses of God’s power to change lives.  As we walk in the spirit and display the fruit thereof we become living testimonies of God’s truth.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 13-16

Be aware also that it is God through His Holy Spirit that is working to convince those unconverted people of the truth and to draw them to Himself.  Sometimes He may use us, so we should be open to the possibility of being used to speak the truth to those who are ready to hear.

“Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.’” John 4: 43-45

In conclusion, we must never lose sight of the fact that the root cause of all of our problems here on earth is the need to be in right relationship with our Creator God and to be converted from a carnal nature to a spiritual nature.  Although the problems of this world will never be completely resolved until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ when He will restore His righteous kingdom, we can still experience the fruit of the spirit in this life.  The Holy Spirit can also use us to influence others around us either by them seeing our transformed lives and actions, or by us speaking the truth to them in love.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:17-21

Again I encourage you to walk in the spirit and to put your carnal nature to death.  This is a daily exercise that we must continue until the end.  Also, remember that the words of Jesus are spirit and life.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64

Amen.

Humble Yourself before God

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’, therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” 1 Peter 5: 5-6

Humility is an extremely important character trait for the true Christian and it plays a vital role in our coming to the full knowledge of the truth.  Conversely, as the above quoted verse states, pride is a trait that God resists; it is an abomination to Him:

“Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.” Proverbs 16: 5

Unfortunately, in our western culture, being a proud person is seen as a strength, while being a humble person is seen as a weakness.  Many of us who have been raised in this culture are unaware of the extent of this incorrect thinking.  We are blinded to the arrogance that exists because we have become so accustomed to it.  Of course, when there are extreme displays of arrogance and haughtiness it is looked down upon by most, but the more subtle presence of pride and arrogance goes unnoticed, especially when we consider our pride or humility with respect to God.

Let’s first look at definitions of the English words used here so we can make sure we have the same understanding of meanings:

According to dictionary.com, pride is defined as “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.”  I should mention that the word inordinate here is defined as “not within proper or reasonable limits; immoderate; excessive.

Humble is defined as “not proud or arrogant; modest” and humility is defined as “a quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.”

It is clear from these definitions that pride is the result of seeing ourselves as more than what we really are.  It comes from falsely elevating ourselves above our true place in life or above our actual or realistic importance.  It should also be noted that humility does not require that we present or consider ourselves as something less than what we really are, but rather, it requires that we refrain from presenting or considering ourselves as something more than what we really are.  Therefore, it is important that we are honest with ourselves and keep a realistic view of our situation in life and our importance, but this can be difficult for us to do.

The Scriptures also teach us that it is wise to let another person praise you, and not to praise yourself:

“Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:2

This is wise advice because it is easy for us to exaggerate our importance or situation since we tend to be biased about ourselves.  Even if we are accurate in our self-praise, it still can be interpreted by others as boastful and arrogant.

The Scriptures also advice us to present or position ourselves in a lower position and to allow God to raise us to the higher position if we deserve it.  Again, we don’t need to consider ourselves as less important than we are, but we should place ourselves at a lowly place and then allow God, working through others, to move us up to a place of honor.

So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: ‘When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, “Give place to this man,” and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 14:7-11

What is critically important regarding humility is our ability to see ourselves, our position and our importance, relative to God, not just in relationship to our fellow human beings. As our infinite, omnipotent Creator, God holds a position that is vastly superior to ours and should therefore be approached by us with this in mind.

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” Psalm 8: 3-4

As Christians we want to please the Lord; we want to increase in our knowledge of the truth and be transformed into His likeness.  This cannot be accomplished if we are walking with any amount of pride rather than humility, even if we are unaware of our condition.

Let’s first consider the big picture of our walk with the Lord as a Christian.  Sometime in the past we were presented with the Gospel, the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and then rose again from the dead (was resurrected) and was seen by witnesses.  He then ascended to heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father where all things were placed under His lordship.

“Moreover, brethren I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve.  After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” 1 Cor. 15: 1-6

And this later in the same chapter:

“Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For ‘He has put all things under His feet.’ But when He says ‘all things are put under Him’ it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” 1 Cor. 15: 24-28

We Christians have made the Lordship of Jesus Christ a reality in our lives and understand that not only is He the present Lord of lords in heaven, but He someday will put an end to all other rule and authority and power.  We were accounted as righteous by making this truth of His resurrection and subsequent lordship a reality in our hearts.

“But what does it [the righteousness of faith] say?  ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in you heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.” Romans 10: 8-10 (RSV)

We must consider also that it is likely that God had done some work in your life prior to your hearing the Gospel to deal with your pride.  We must put aside our pride in order to receive God’s revelation of truth.  This was the case for me where I had many humbling experiences leading up to my conversion to Biblical Christianity.  This humility is important because the humble man realizes that God is the source of truth and that we must humbly accept the revelation of this truth even when we don’t fully understand every aspect of it.  The proud man sees himself, that is, his intellect and reasoning, as the source of truth, and therefore rejects what he does not understand fully.  As Christians we stand humbly below the revealed Scriptures, seeing them as the divine word of God.  The proud man stands above the Scriptures and picks and chooses what he wants to believe from them (and this is erroneous) and potentially rejecting the important elements of the truth as a result.  Christians must combine faith with humility to accept God’s revelation of truth in the Scriptures.

As Christians we need to be careful that we don’t establish truth in our lives from hearing other men’s opinions or develop our own opinions outside of God’s word (from the experiences we encounter), and then try to use various Scripture verses to support our already established viewpoint. The revealed word of God, the Bible, must be the authority for truth in our lives, and this can only happen if we put aside our pride and humbly accept the revelation.  Men’s opinions and our experiences must be tested against the Scriptures, and then either accepted or rejected.  With this in mind we can more clearly see why it is critical to have a full knowledge of the Scriptures by reading and studying them for ourselves, and then humbly accepting what is revealed, so we can properly determine the truth.

Let’s now consider why pride is an abomination to the Lord.  First we know that Satan’s rebellion was rooted in his desire to become like the Most High and elevate himself above his given place, which was an act of arrogance and pride.  Adam and Eve also responded to Satan’s lie that they would become like God if they ate the forbidden fruit, also a prideful move to make themselves more important than they were.  We see throughout the Scripture record that rebellion is associated with pride as God’s creatures, namely the human race, reject their position under His authority, and disregard His commandments and fail to pay Him the respect and honor that is His due.

Additionally, for a person to be prideful they must be self-centered, which is the opposite of love. Love looks to the well being of others rather than the advancement or elevation of one’s self.  Humility is one of the characteristics of a loving person.  The Lord Jesus Christ, when He walked on this earth, taught about the importance of humility and also gave an example of it in His own life as He submitted Himself to the will of the Father, even unto death, and as He served others.  Even the fact that He lowered Himself to become a man was a great act of humility.

There are many example of humility throughout the Bible, but I want to look at two example from the life and teachings of Jesus:

First, the story of the proud religious Pharisee contrasted with the humble tax collector.

“Also He [Jesus] spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector, I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 18:11-14

The second account is an explicit example that Jesus gave to His disciples regarding humility and serving each other that occurred immediately after the “Last Supper” Passover meal shortly before He was betrayed and later put to death:

“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  Then He came to Simon Peter, and Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part of Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’ So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things blessed are you if you do them.’” John 13: 3-17

Here Jesus has shown us the position that we have in our lives: we are to serve others, or to be a servant.  In the same way, or with the same attitude and consideration of our importance that He had when He washed their feet, this is how we should see ourselves with others, no matter what worldly position we hold.  Note that this is the complete opposite of the attitude and approach of most of the people in the world system.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must recognize the need for us to humble ourselves before God as the above quoted verse from 1 Peter suggests.  Yes, the word humble can be a verb and not just a noun. What does this mean to “humble ourselves”?  I believe that we need to periodically, maybe on a daily basis, examine ourselves to assure that we are completely aware of our position before Him as His humble servant, and as a servant to others, sifting out any prideful attitudes or areas of our lives where we have allowed the influence of the arrogant attitude of the world around us to creep in.  This is an act of faith on our part where we must make the truth of the Lordship of Jesus a reality in our minds and hearts.  I see this as being very similar to our use of faith to “encourage ourselves in the Lord” as David did, but to focus on the reality of our humble position, rather than on the faithfulness of God and His promises to us.

Approach the Lord in prayer humbly, recognizing His high standard of holiness and righteousness that we have fallen short of in our lives. All of us have fallen short of God’s standard and have sinned in our past.  We can only stand before the Lord now due to the merits of the Lord Jesus and His redemption on our behalf, paying the price for our past sins.  Even now, although we are striving to walk in holiness and love with a clear conscience, we must recognize that we have nothing to boast about in the light of our past shortcomings, and should approach Him accordingly.

We must also remember the authority of His Word, the Bible, as a source of truth, seeking to establish our world view and belief system based on its revelations and using it as a source of authority to sort out the lies of the enemy.

In closing I remind you again of God’s resistance of the proud person and His elevation of the humble person.  I leave you with this prophecy from the prophet Isaiah showing the Lord’s attitude towards the humble:

“For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’” Isaiah 57: 15

Amen.